Friday, April 8, 2011

Jim Crow in the African-American West

The African-American West: A Century of Short Stories spans the Twentieth Century featuring fiction on Jim Crow laws, lynching and love.

The African-American West: A Century of Short Stories by Bruce A. Glasrud  & Laurie Champion   
The African-American
West: A Century of Short
Stories by Bruce A. Glasrud
& Laurie Champion
Bruce A. Glasrud Editor of  Editions: The African-American West  Black Women in Texas History
Bruce A. Glasrud
Editor of  Editions:
The African-American West
 Black Women in Texas History
I write on the history of U.S. race relations, which includes subjects like Jim Crow, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by Rosa Parks, Woolworth's Sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, Freedom Riders, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and so many other pertinent topics.

Bruce A. Glasrud, award-winning writer-editor and Professor Emeritus of History, California State University, East Bay, co-edited The African-American West: A Century of Short Stories (University Press, Colorado) with Laurie Champion, and included my short story, Amen, in The African-American West, proving that there are a lot of journalistic reports and historical accounts involved in fiction writing. An array of other authors in this book write their personal reflections and memories in the form of short stories, covering the 20th century on the Western Frontier. Many of these short stories shed new light on Jim Crow in the African American West. For more information and purchase instructions: The African American West: A Century of Short Stories.

Bruce Glasrud, specializing in the history of African Americans in Texas and the American West, and an expert in the history Jim Crow in America, has published 16 books and 60 scholarly articles in journals and books such as The African American Experience in Texas (Texas Tech 2007); Buffalo Soldiers in the West (Texas A&M University Press 2007); (review) Black Women in Texas History (Texas A&M University Press 2008); and African Americans on the Great Plains (Nebraska 2009). Recently, Glasrud published African Americans and the Presidency: The Road to the White House (Routledge 2010) with Cary D. Wintz. Review and purchasing links for books listed in this post can be found at the end of this post. Many of the titles listed for sale at the end of this post are available in print, Kindle or other digital editions.

Amazon Editorial Review of African Americans and the Presidency: The Road to the White House says, "The election of Barack Obama to the presidency is a landmark moment in American history. But it’s a moment that was made possible by the steady, determined work of so many individuals—some recognized, but the majority working quietly out of the spotlight to bring about change. From the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to the 2008 election, it’s been a long distance race and a team effort. This book illuminates the course of that race and documents the contributions of many who laid the groundwork for Obama’s victory."

Black Women in Texas History
Review & Buy
Black Women in Texas History
& Books  and Kindles
On Related Topics

Black Women in Texas History (Texas A&M University Press) is a hardcover book, part of a series by the Texas A&M University Association of Former Students. I graduated in 1977 from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism, broadcast emphasis. One of the best decisions of my life was to attend and graduate from this University and be among the first women to do so. Because I have tried to make a career in my field of choice, the University has continued to recognize and honor my efforts, which include being part of the edition, Black Women in Texas History (hardcover); or Black Women in Texas History (softcover)

Black Texas Women: 150 Years of Trial & Triumph
Buy Black Texas Women:
150 Years of Trial
& Triumph
Black Texas Women: 150 Years of Trial and Triumph (Texas A&M University Press) by Ruthe Winegarten, edited by Janet G. Humphrey and Frieda Werden, is another volume that includes an entry about me because of my professional efforts and my attendance and graduation from Texas A&M University. Review of Texas Books from Amazon Editorial Review says, "Occasionally a book comes along that is monumental in scope, overwhelming in amount of research, and so powerful in its impact as to be categorized at once as a lasting contribution to our knowledge of humankind. Black Texas Women is one of those rare books.... Highly recommended." Black Texas Women: 150 Years of Trial and Triumph (hardcover) or Black Texas Women: 150 Years of Trial and Triumph (softcover).

Sunny Nash
Read About:
Sunny Nash
Amen, which is included in The African-American West, is about a religious meeting, typical of those held in the community where I grew up in Texas, still considered at that time to be the Western Frontier (1950s). Amen's little girl witnesses a traveling preacher's dishonesty, similar to an experience I had with a cousin who took me to a revival meeting. I knew it wasn't exactly like going to church, being on a week night after work and school, and conducted in an abandoned rent house.

I didn't like church and would not have gone had I thought it was a real church. Sunday was enough! When I think of my early church experiences, I was quite frightened by the congregation's response to a preacher yelling that we were all going to burn up in hell if we did or didn't do certain things. I couldn't understand most of what the preacher spat loudly between clinched teeth. So, I didn't know what I was supposed to do or not do. Everyone else seemed to understand what was expected, throwing hands in the air, getting happy and shouting, Amen! I sat glued to my seat afraid to open my mouth. 

To get happy in church or a religious meeting was a trance-like condition of individual members of the congregation when they seemed to experience an out-of-body state and be in intimate contact with the spirit. This state could last for a few minutes or longer with the person emerging from the trance with an improved  attitude or physical condition.

My grandmother, Bigmama, on whose philosophies I based my first book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, was part Comanche and did not buy into some aspects of southern religious practices. Her father and all of his relatives were Black Indians that Bigmama referred to as prairie people. Bigmama had a Comanche name, which no one was allowed to say out loud. Her brother-in-law, Uncle George, called her by the name when he wanted to tease her. Bigmama didn't take teasing about her Comanche name very well, although Native American blood is common in families like ours.

"There were Black Indians everywhere in this family," Bigmama said. "They were Comanche--full-bloods and half-bloods." Today, we have to think twice about what we call people, depending on the rules of political correctness. Bigmama did not care about political correctness then and would not care about political correctness now.

Black Indians DVD
(Google Affiliate Ad)

Video on the topic of black people on the Western Frontier is coming soon. I will re-release this post when the video has been included. consist of brief biographies of authors whose short stories are published in The African-American West: A Century of Short Stories and photographs of actual African American cowboys, and also black and Native American people who merged and created families. So, stay tuned! 

In the meantime, I found a DVD, Black Indians: An American Story, starring James Earl Jones. Amazon Product Description: "Black Indians: An American Story brings to light a forgotten part of America's past- the cultural and racial fusion of Native and African Americans. Narrated by James Earl Jones, produced and directed by the award-winning Native American production company Rich-Heape Films, this presentation explores what brought the two groups together, what drove them apart and the challenges they face today."

Black cowboys were also natural occurrences in our family. In fact, some of the first cowboys on the Texas range were black cowboys, many of whom had been slaves or they had come into the territory for freedom before Texas was a slave state. Bigmama's brother-in-law, Uncle George, was a cowboy who broke wild Mustang horses on a ranch near Iola, Texas, where he lived until he died. He had to be pretty old when I knew him. Bigmama was born in 1890 and Uncle George was about her age. However, neither of them were born during slavery, but either or both of them could have had a slave or two in their ancestry.

Sunny Nash's Uncle Tinney
Bigmama's Brother-in-law
Another of Bigmama's brothers-in-law, Uncle Tinney, was also a cowboy, or at least he dressed like one. "Tinney's hands are too soft for a real cowboy," Bigmama said. "Tinney was more interested in making easy money selling moonshine. He really liked to dress."

A woman who spoke her mind in private, Bigmama would never let people know exactly what she thought. "If you are not careful, people will use what you think and feel against you," I heard her say many times. "Why would you give a person bullets to put in a gun to shoot you? No, some things are better left unsaid."

I believe Rosa Parks (article), whom I have written about in several articles, had Bigmama's view when she refused to give up her seat on the bus and sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. No one on that bus knew what Rosa Parks was about to do when she got on the bus.

When the time was right for Rosa Parks to make her protest against unfair seating on the bus, she surprised everyone aboard the bus, including the bus driver. If everyone had known about the plan to protest segregated public transportation, Rosa Parks would not have been successful in refusing to give up her seat and setting Jim Crow law in Alabama on its ear.

Bigmama detested the way church in our neighborhood was conducted--the dancing, shouting and screaming, and then the fainting off of certain church ladies into the waiting arms of handsome deacons. "I don't believe any of that is real," she would say. Equally distasteful to Bigmama were the preachers, some of whom seemed more interested in how much money was on the collection plate or which sister was wearing the tightest outfit than how many souls they could save. She never went to revival meetings, which she compared to freak shows. My mother went to those performances to hear the gospel singing that most of the preachers advertised as being part of their shows. It was never very good singing, though. My mother sang much better than the traveling choirs in their bad-fitting robes.

The child in my story is an observer who discovers the trickery of the preacher and her neighbor's participation in the perceived deceit of those in the congregation. Unlike me, having overheard conversations at home, the child in my story had no idea of the sham until she realizes that everyone knows about the trickery. These events were designed for the amusement and regular entertainment of isolated frontier communities. The traveling preachers went from one out-of-the-way town to another, recruiting volunteers like the neighbor in my story to play along with the act and get paid secretly. The acts included a volunteer pretending some illness or disability and then being miraculously cured by the phony preacher-healer in front a supposedly stunned audience. Then came the collection plate. Although few believed what they had just seen, they placed their hard-earned pennies into the plate as compensation for a good show. If the acting and the preacher's music were really good, then the plate would fill up. If not, then not so much money would be collected.

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I am privileged to have been included in such great company as those authors in The African-American West: A Century of Short Stories (University Press of Colorado), edited by Bruce A. Glasrud: Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charles W. Chesnutt, Rita Dove, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Chester Himes, Terry McMillan, Reginald McKnight and Walter Mosley, to name a few.

I must admit that I have been in good company in several projects in the past. My story, Amen, which the editors Glasrud and Champion included, was first published in Southwestern American Literature Journal (Texas State University Press), edited by Mark Busby. This story is now a chapter in a work of fiction that I am completing.  Read an excerpt from "Amen."

Racial tensions were prevalent in many parts of the West and the rest of the nation, in areas that one would not have expected to find racism and discrimination in housing, employment, education, public transportation and other aspects of daily life. A related article is Race Relations in America and Southern California.

(Google Affiliate Ad)
Although beatings, murder and lynching on the Western Frontier did involve former slaves and their descendants, much of this violence was not limited to African Americans and Native Americans. Cases of lynching in the West occurred for the same reasons they happened in other parts of the nation. Many of these cases of murder occurred as a result of property rights, territorial disputes, employment, ethnic differences and political competition. Immigrants were often targets. In fact, in California, during the Gold Rush when Chinese miners began attempting to purchase claims and enter the mines, lynching of Chinese miners increased to discourage the group from competing for the precious ore.

Lynching of Jesse Washington Waco, Texas, 1916
Lynching of Jesse Washington
Waco, Texas, 1916

Glasrud and Champion included in The African American West DuBois' frontier story, Jesus Christ in Texas, about a Waco, Texas, black man accused of attacking a white woman and being lynched by a mob. The fictionalized lynching in DuBois' short story is reminiscent of the factual lynching of Jesse Washington. Charged with the rape and murder of a white woman, the 17-year-old farmhand, reported to be mentally retarded, was lynched in the frontier town of Waco, Texas, in 1916.

Patricia Bernstein wrote a book, published by Teas A&M University Press  about the Jesse Washington lynching. “The topic is compelling and important. . . . a page-turner, indeed an often horrifying one . . . it has great potential to greatly expanding our understanding of race, racial violence, and racial politics in the early twentieth century.”--Cary D. Wintz, Texas Southern University (Cary D. Wintz, Texas Southern University): The First Waco Horror: The Lynching of Jesse Washington and the Rise of the NAACP (hardcover) or The First Waco Horror: The Lynching of Jesse Washington and the Rise of the NAACP (softcover).

The photograph above was taken by a commercial photographer and published on a postcard showing the body of Washington who confessed to raping and killing a white woman, for which he was castrated, mutilated and burned alive by a cheering mob that reportedly included the mayor and police chief. An observer wrote that "Washington was beaten with shovels and bricks. . .[he] was castrated, and his ears were cut off. A tree supported the iron chain that lifted him above the fire. . . Wailing, the boy attempted to climb up the skillet hot chain. For this, the men cut off his fingers." On the back of the postcard was written: “This is the barbecue we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe."

The Arfiran-American West: A Century of Short Stories
The Arfiran-American
West: A Century
of Short Stories

Amazon Editorial Review:

This one-of-a-kind anthology sheds needed light on a neglected body of literature. Gathered here are a century's worth of African American short stories, told from the point of view of a black person or featuring a black person as a major character and set in the American West. The 46 stories range widely in settings within that vast chunk of American real estate called the West; and not suggesting these gems of fiction were meant as sociological tracks, each one nonetheless contributes in its own fashion to a greater understanding of the history of the black presence in the West.

Male and female characters from all walks of life make their way through these pages. Some stories have as a nucleus the author's historical consciousness; other stories focus strictly on the here and now in which they were written. Less well known names stand strong against bigger names, which include Charles W. Chesnutt, Frank Yerby, and Walter Mosley. Not to be overlooked when rounding out any public library's short-story collection. Brad Hooper For more information and purchase instructions: The African American West: A Century of Short Stories.

To get even more insight into the civil rights era, race relations
in America and mid-century life in the southwest, take a look at my book,
Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop
At Woolworth's
by Sunny Nash
Chosen by the Association of American University Presses as one of its essential books for understanding race relations in the United States, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press) by the award-winning author, Sunny Nash, is also listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center in New York and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida. Sunny Nash’s book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, can be purchased from all major bookstores and by following the link below. Take a look at the video  below on the right for an idea of the kind of writing to be found in my book.Also find a review below by Robin Fruble.

by Sunny Nash

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